How To Buy…Network Attached Storage (Part 1)

1/11/2013 6:03:21 PM

Network attached storage allows you to expand your file sharing capabilities, but what are the best NAS devices around? We find out

The general move towards solid-state storage in home computing devices (whether they’re laptops, smartphones or tablets) means that after years of being dirt cheap, storage space is once again priced at something of a premium. Increasing the space in a phone or tablet from a meager 16GB to a marginally less meager 64GB can cause the price to double - a galling prospect when a 2TB mechanical hard drive can be picked up for around $160.

Worse still, the increasing resolution and quality of commercial media means that the entertainment we actually use our computers to view takes up more space than ever. The experience is universal: devices becoming full and media being deleted and re-downloaded.

Network-attached storage (NAS), however, can offer you an alternative to the cycle of frustration. NAS devices attach to a network, acting as a stand-alone file server. They give you a place to store large files and run the software you need to stream those files direct to your PC or smart device on demand.

In some cases, you can even do so over the internet, meaning you don’t even have to be in the same country to gain access to your beloved files. Cross-compatibility means NAS devices can allow easy access to data regardless of device manufacturer or operating system make (something you’ll appreciate if you’ve ever tried to share files between a Mac and PC, or Windows and Linux). They require very little technical knowledge to set up, and they’re cheaper, quieter and smaller than dedicated file server systems.

Admittedly, there are disadvantages to using network-attached storage instead of local storage -an increase in network traffic, the potential speed limitations of certain types of wireless networks and a greater expense to run - but in general, the benefits outweigh the problems. If you’ve never looked into buying a NAS device, we have the details here to help you pick the right one.

How Much Should You Spend?

If you have a spare hard drive hanging around, then good news - you can get a NAS device up and running for as little as $57. All you have to do is buy a drive-free NAS bay. These contain the software and most of the hardware you need to run a NAS device, but are vastly cheaper because they contain no actual storage.



If you can provide the remaining component of a hard drive, it’s undoubtedly the least expensive way to get a NAS up and running.

Don’t spend much more than $73, though. High end NAS bays contain space for multiple hard drives and additional hardware (such as memory modules to improve their caching capabilities), but these are designed for business use and are far more sophisticated than a home user would need.

Buffalo Linkstation Live

Buffalo Linkstation Live

For a home NAS device with a 1TB hard drive, you should currently expect to pay around $146. Any more than $195 is pushing it; the features at this level don’t really justify the extra cost and you’d be better off spending your money on buying one with a larger hard drive. After all, 1TB isn’t actually that big, relative to the 6TB monsters at the other end of the market. Also, remember that 1TB is only a lot of space when one person is using it. It probably won’t take more than a few networked users to fill 1TB of storage, especially if you’re centralising things like music and videos!

That said, even the most expensive home NAS devices clock in at around $652, we’d actually advise you to stick as close to the bottom end of the market as possible. While 1TB devices cost less than $160, most 2TB devices are clustered around the $326 mark, made more expensive by their dual-bay technology. In some cases, it’s actually cheaper to buy two 1TB devices than a single 2TB device. If you’re looking for 2TB or more for home use, try not to spend more than $293.

What Make/Model/Manufacturer Should You Look For?

There are many NAS brands around, some of them closely associated with network technology, but most of them are still targeting their products at the corporate and enterprise market only. Home users can stay confident by sticking to one of the two major brands: Buffalo and Western Digital. Anyone else is probably making business hardware.



The biggest exception to that rule concerns those looking for empty NAS bays aimed at the home market. The best manufacturer of these devices is ZyXEL. Its NSA310 is a cheap, single-bay drive housing that can contain hard drives of up to 3TB, and is available for under $65. Its older brother, the ZyXEL NSA325, has two drive bays and costs closer to $130. Both are USB 3.0 compatible and certainly worth a look if you want to take control of your own setup on the hardware level.

If you’re hoping to buy one with a drive included, the Buffalo Linkstation Live (1TB) is a good entry-level choice, costing only $130. For $65 more you can get a Linkstation Pro (1TB), which has four times the cache and offers twice the transfer speeds. At higher capacities, the WD My Book Live contains one 3TB drive and costs only $269 - far better value than almost any other home NAS device can offer but it also suffers from poor customer feedback.

While it’s tough to ignore the excellent value it offers, we strongly recommend doing your research before spending any money on one in case you’re ill-equipped to survive hardware failures or iron out configuration problems.

“Don’t get too hung up on paying extra for the hardware alone”

Ultimately, though, if we had to recommend one, the Buffalo LinkStation Pro 3TB version may have an RRP of $524, but shop around and you’ll be able to pick it up for $326 or less. It’s almost as cheap as a 3TB My Book, but with substantially better performance. Admittedly, it’s expensive, but if you find money a secondary concern to value, it’s definitely the one to go for.

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